Friday, April 20 , 2018, 4:04 am | Fair 50º


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SBCAG May Go It Alone for Now on Highway 101 Project

As state construction grinds to a halt in cash-strapped California, Measure D funds may loaned so the road can go on.

With California’s fiscal emergency deepening, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments will be meeting Thursday to discuss taking matters into its own hands so the Highway 101 widening project can continue, at least for a while.

SBCAG is offering to lend Caltrans money to cover construction costs as state funding for the project dries up and threatens to halt work this week if a budget is not reached. Because of California’s weak credit rating, lack of cash reserves and inability to sell bonds, transportation projects around the state have ground to a halt. But actually stopping the work comes at a steep price; Caltrans estimates it will cost nearly $400 million to halt and later resume work on these bond-funded projects statewide. For Santa Barbara’s highway project between Hot Springs Road and Milpas Street, it could cost as much as $5 million.

Last month, SBCAG authorized negotiations on a loan agreement between the organization and Caltrans, which would use Measure D funds to continue the project. SBCAG staff believes up to $2 million of the funds can be used without affecting other budget items. In that case, the project could be kept afloat for the next couple of months. Additional funding from federal stimulus monies allotted to roadways could also help extend the project for another month. The project is one of the largest undertaken by the county, with construction costs hovering around $53 million.

Another option the board could take involves using local funds to purchase general obligation bonds that would allow Caltrans to continue working on the project. The viability of this option is still under review.

Because of chaos in Sacramento, SBCAG is waiting to see whether funding for transportation projects will be suspended, said Gregg Hart, SBCAG’s government affairs coordinator.

“They want to make a crisis to ratchet up the pressure to solve the problem, but they don’t want to incur the costs of stopping the project,” Hart said.

Weather has also kept the status of the project in limbo, forcing construction to stop after rain began to fall.

SBCAG meets at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room, 105 E. Anapamu St., fourth floor. The meeting will also be shown live on CSBTV Channel 20.

At the Capitol, meanwhile, the state Senate remained in lockdown mode Wednesday as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders stepped up their efforts to convince Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, to buck his party and vote to approve their budget deal. The package includes $16 billion in spending cuts, up to $11 billion in Wall Street loans and more than $14 billion in tax hikes. Because tax increases require a two-thirds majority vote for passage, unified Democrats need to pick off one Republican to achieve the threshold.

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